Was Trump’s victory a big blow to big data?

One of the over-arching narratives in the big data movement is that data can provide the necessary insights for businesses to make good decisions.

But that theory is being put to the test because of the recent U.S. election, which saw a surprising upset victory for billionaire real-estate mogul Donald Trump. And, to a lesser extent the Brexit polling too has led to many questioning the validity of analytical data.

Pollsters may have woken up on the morning of Nov. 9 to claim their numbers were accurate in the popular vote which Hillary Clinton did win. But that’s like saying the Cleveland Indians should be awarded the World Series because they scored more runs than the Chicago Cubs in total, during their seven game series. It doesn’t work that way.

The popular vote discussion does not hold water because voter data was captured from each state and interpreted to lead several of the pundits predicting Clinton would win battle ground states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, her so-called “firewall”, and therefore win the White House. Those states were all captured by Trump.

Both Sam Wang and Nate Silver, two of America’s most successful pollsters, had Clinton winning the election. Wang had it at 99 per cent for Clinton, while Silver had his numbers at around 70 per cent. Even in the 2015 Canadian election polls had the three parties to form government in a three-way tie. As we all know, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won convincingly.

And even those who were right before can’t take it for granted they will be consistently correct in the future. Take, for example Qriously, the only research firm to correctly predict the Brexit outcome. This London-based firm used “in-app polls” in those same battleground states mentioned above along with Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and Colorado and came to the conclusion that Clinton would be President-Elect. Qriously captured its data via smartphones.

This method is not too similar to the way most businesses doing research for important buying decisions. I’m not knocking Qriously because they too capture data not just by demographics, but also behaviour and B2B sources. Even Qriously, on its website, says “current opinion polling methods are broken.”

But still, what are business people, large and small, doing? Looking for data sources to make informed decisions. An Acquity Group study on B2B procurement found that 94 per cent of business buyers make decisions via Google search, business websites, reviews and other third-party websites.

Another study from Forrester Research shows 74 per cent of business buyers do more than 50 per cent of their purchasing decision from online information.

So given the vast majority of the pollsters used data insights and came up with the wrong answer, can data be trusted as much as it is today with helping business make the right decisions?

The companies who are bringing the data narrative to market and presenting it as gospel will now have to revisit their stance on data analytics being the be all and end all of good decision making.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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